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Residents near a downtown Columbus park are encouraged that an increase in police patrols has resulted in a corresponding reduction in the prevalence of fighting, drug activity, juvenile problems and suspicious behavior in the neighborhood.
City officials, meanwhile, see the efforts at Ninth Street Park as a blueprint to help other troubled Columbus neighborhoods.
“It is unacceptable, and we won’t tolerate having a neighborhood and a park in our community where the residents don’t feel safe,” Mayor Kristen Brown said.
Brown said the city will take similar efforts in other neighborhoods, using a city park as a foothold to help lift up the entire neighborhood.
The city’s next targeted neighborhoods will be those around Pence Place apartments on Pence Street and Morningside Park, just east of McClure Road and Parkway Drive, both in the former East Columbus.
City officials and residents near the park at Ninth and Short Wilson streets met this week at Second Baptist Church to discuss changes and improvements made since a November meeting. Last year, residents complained of increased criminal activity at the park including vandalism and threats.
Since then, the city has increased police patrols, built a new fence at the park, installed more lighting and is purchasing a security camera.
Terry A. Anderson, a neighborhood resident, said he is happy with the improvements, but noted that Brown’s administration is the third one to come to the neighborhood making promises of change. After an initial interest, follow-through historically would wane and things would go back to the way they were, Anderson said.
“The plan is to continue to come down here regularly,” Brown said.
Police Chief Jason Maddix acknowledged that the city has had problems in the past with sustaining those improvement efforts, but under Brown there has been a strong commitment to the efforts.
Maddix said officers are stopping by the park about three times a day now. Police also have been parking near the playground while they do paperwork on their in-car laptop computers, providing a further police presence, he said. However, the overall calls for police responses in the neighborhood have not changed significantly since the increased police presence began, Maddix said. The real test will be when warmer weather returns, he and the residents agreed.
Jackie Combest, a neighborhood resident who is blind, asked the police chief to help combat the number of drivers who park their cars on sidewalks. Combest said he walks with his grandchildren at night, and the frequent obstructions make it difficult to travel through the area.
Neighborhood resident Cleveland Stallworth asked city officials if the security camera would be able to withstand vandals.
Ben Wagner, the city parks director, said the model the city is considering has an acrylic covering over the lens that can withstand BB gun hits and a housing that can take a beating from a sledgehammer and keep operating. In addition, it will be mounted high on a pole to protect it from harm.
Wagner outlined the city’s plan to improve the playground equipment at the park in the next few months, making it accessible to all children. The city will replace sidewalk pavers with a new material that allows for greater accessibility.
The parks department is cleaning trash from the park twice a day, and the park patrol stops twice a night to check on the park, Wagner said.
The park is open until 11 p.m., according to posted signs.
On April 19 and 20, volunteers will target the neighborhood for a major cleanup effort, removing trash and debris, said Bill Klakamp, the county zoning enforcement officer. And on April 26, tree plantings are being planned in recognition of Arbor Day, Wagner said.
Chris Rutan, a neighborhood resident, thanked the mayor for the city efforts.
“I can say last year that a lot of times I did not feel comfortable stepping out on my front porch for fear of a gunfight,” Rutan said. “It has dramatically improved.”
Georgia Webb, a landlord in the neighborhood, said the increased police presence has been wonderful.
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